July August Industry Forum

July 12, 2013

Joe Giulietti

Executive Director

South Florida Regional Transportation Authority

Given the demographics of our state, one of the greatest challenges the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority/Tri-Rail (SFRTA) faces is in reaching the constant influx of new residents and tourists who don’t even know that a commuter rail system exists in our region, let alone one which could be beneficial to their quality of life and mobility needs.

Add to that our extraordinarily diverse community; a blend of Hispanics, transplants from the Caribbean and Latin America, the French Canadians who populate South Florida during “season,” and the Asians, South Americans and Europeans who are creating a booming condo market in downtown Miami. Of course, the SFRTA cannot forget its senior citizens and retirees, many of whom are almost exclusively dependent on using public transportation for the basic mobility necessities such as doctor’s visits, grocery shopping, social activities, and attending religious services. At the other end of the spectrum are the youth, for many of whom mass transit is the only option.

Then there are our daily commuters and those returning to the workforce after long periods of unemployment. Many of these riders have been forced to accept employment that entails a commute from one end of the service area to the other at a time when financial circumstances have forced them to forfeit their automobiles.

These are all potential Tri-Rail riders. The SFRTA has never subscribed to the “cast your bread on the waters and see what comes” philosophy of attracting new customers. Almost every outreach effort that the Agency mounts has a targeted audience and is created with built in quantifiable measures.

For example, just last month the SFRTA sponsored the 8th annual “Senior Idol,” a program directly geared to attracting the senior market. Modeled after the television program, it has attracted thousands of seniors over the course of the years. This year, we had more than 130 contestants, aged 65 and older, vying to be the Senior Idol of 2013. The selected 12 finalists competed before 1000 people. Through partnerships with the leading senior publications in South Florida, we have consistently reached more people year after year.

We are equally concerned with attracting families to our trains. Each year, the SFRTA produces Rail Fun Day, a day of outdoor festivities, games, food trucks, displays by local non-profit agencies, animal adoptions and train rides. This year’s event attracted more than 2,000 people.
Another way that the SFRTA will appeal to the commuting public is through the promotion of new rolling stock over the next 18 months. By the end of 2014, we will have replaced our entire fleet of aging cars and locomotives, giving commuters the comfort, cleanliness, and on-time reliability they need to depend on to find and keep secure employment.

The SFRTA has reached a broader audience by partnering with the many outdoor festivals and sports events that flourish in this environment. The SFRTA has provided special service for the Orange, Pro and Super Bowls, to the new Marlins Ball Park during its opening season, the Annual Air and Sea Show, the Miami Book Fair, and Sun Fest, among many others.

Using all of the media available, including websites, direct mail, e-blasts, multi-lingual print and electronic media and social media, the SFRTA continues to grow its ridership and attract new audiences.

Phillip A. Washington

General Manager and CEO, Denver Regional Transportation District 

Serving New Customers – How Millennials Are Shaping Our Future

As we focus on how we serve new or non-traditional categories of customers, I think it is also important that we take a look at long-term trends that are shaping our industry’s ability to serve one of our largest, growing groups of new customers — the current generation of 16 to 34-year-olds, better known as Millennials.

A recent report issued by the Colorado Public Interest Research Group (CoPIRG) Foundation details a little-known fact that the number of vehicle miles driven in this nation has shown a downward trend for about a decade. The report noted that demographic changes also indicate this slowdown in driving should continue because Baby Boomers are moving out of the phase in their life when they do the most commuting, just as driving-averse Millennials move into that phase. According to the report, “A New Direction: Our Changing Relationship with Driving and the Implications for America’s Future”, miles driven per capita in the US peaked in 2004 while the total number of miles driven peaked in 2007.

The greatest decline in driving was among the Millennials — who drove 23 percent fewer miles on average in 2009 than in 2001. Statistics also show that Millennials are more likely to want to live in urban, walkable neighborhoods served by alternate modes of transportation. According to CoPIRG’s report, which projected trends through 2040, the number of vehicle miles driven annually will actually be lower in the future.

While this all may seem to give transit agency leaders cause for celebration, it is also quite sobering because it shows that public transit providers must be able to significantly increase our investments in transit infrastructure and transit services to even hope to keep pace with the inevitable, substantial increase in demands placed upon our businesses.

Further complicating the picture is the fact that official government forecasts of future vehicle miles traveled assume ongoing increases in driving, despite the changing trends outlined in the CoPIRG report. Those official forecasts show an assumption of continued Baby Boomer-era driving trends that now look to be overstated.

It is important to note that the official forecasts are being used to seek increased spending on new and expanded highways, while at the same time the clearly identified and much needed funding for rebuilding our crumbling transportation infrastructure remains woefully inadequate.

A table in the report demonstrates the following conclusions:

• Coupled with improvements in fuel efficiency, reduced driving means Americans will use about half as much gasoline and other fuels in 2040 than they use today, making the real value of gas taxes fall by as much as 74 percent. Gas taxes provide the chief source of federal transportation funds as well as a major source for many states.

• Traffic congestion will be less of a problem.
• Toll roads will be less financially viable.
• Many highway expansion projects will begin to look unnecessary and wasteful.
• Forms of travel that are expanding in use, especially public transit, will be a better investment.

In short, the American landscape — in the form of our public transit customer base — is changing and a new lead demographic is emerging. This new reality alerts us to the need for restructuring and refocusing our nation’s transportation funding priorities: less emphasis on new highways; more focus on rebuilding our aging roads and bridges; and substantial increases in funding for transit infrastructure. Along with this refocus comes a responsibility for transit industry professionals to take the lead in making this new reality happen. We have been given a glimpse of the future, and we will play a major role in shaping that future.